Kitt Kopach Finding his Consistency

While many players fared worse than Cubs 12th-round draft pick Kitt Kopach in their professional debut season at Class Low A Boise a season ago, few struggled to find the strike zone as much as the 21-year-old right-hander.

A native of Darien, Ill., that was drafted from Illinois State University last summer, Kopach appeared in 11 games for the Cubs' short-season affiliate in the Northwest League in 2006, going 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in 11 appearances. He walked 24 in only 27 1/3 innings with the team and had as many wild pitches and hit batsmen as he did strikeouts (seven).

What went wrong?

"The big thing was I was dropping my elbow and rushing toward the plate," Kopach explains. "I'm an aggressive-minded person so I get after it. I was kind of jumping toward the plate, dropping and driving. I'd drop my elbow and that was causing all the misfires."

Kopach joined the Hawks from the Arizona Rookie League in late July and made his first four appearances with the team as a starter. In four starts, he managed just two strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings while walking 15.

That led to a move to the bullpen, where by the time his season was drawing its final breath, Kopach was being used mostly in mop-up situations.

"I was just trying to work on getting my fastball over for strikes. That forced me to throw fastballs in 3-1 counts," he said.

Kopach sees the error in his pitching ways. Once the season ended, he went to the Cubs' annual Instructional League camp in Mesa, Ariz., to gain more pitching experience and to work with Cubs coaches in becoming more consistent with his delivery. (Kopach was originally an infielder in college, but made the full-time switch to pitcher after playing summer ball in 2004.)

"My big thing was doing a lot of shadow work on the mound," he said of Instructs. "It takes me a lot longer because I'm still getting used to being on the mound and being in situations since I'm only a third-year guy. I think experience is going to be the biggest thing for me; that and staying positive.

"It seems the less I try, the better I do."

That's the other area of his game in which Kopach has had to deal with: the mental aspect.

Kopach admitted last summer that he needed to be more relaxed on the hill, often struggling by way of being too hyper. As the season came to a close, Kopach says he could tell he was becoming more fluid on the hill.

"I wasn't thinking about striking the guy out as much," he said. "Our defense was unbelievable and that carried over from Boise into Instructs. Guys were working hard and it's a lot more re-assuring for me to know if I just throw strikes, I'm going to get guys out. You don't have to strike everybody out."

Kopach features a fastball (normally between 89-93 mph) and slider in his repertoire, in addition to a changeup that he's currently developing.

"That's still a work in progress," Kopach said of the changeup. "I kind of put that in the bag in Instructs to focus on my fastball and slider coming out of the ‘pen. It's something I'm still working on and it will probably be a while before I feel comfortable using it in games on a full-time basis."

In the meantime, Kopach has only modest goals for 2007.

"The biggest goal is just consistency," he said. "Each time I go out, just repeat my performance and work off the good ones. There are going to be bad days, but I just want to hammer consistency and pound the strike zone as much as I can."

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